In the previous post, we had mentioned that we will look into other aspects of the painting. So, we begin this post with understanding certain unique compositional characteristics of artist Maniam’s paintings.
In the above illustration, there are two main elements which are strategically placed to give focus to the main theme of the scene – ‘The Royal Coronation’. The plate with the Royal crown, sword and garland looks as if it is flying without a base. And the size of the standing Rajaraja Cholan is much larger compared to other people in the courtroom.
If you use your hand to cover Rajarajan and the plate, the elements of foreground and the background look perfectly in proportion. But the introducing of these two elements which are slightly larger in scale, the artist breaks the perspective without disturbing the visual aesthetics. It is not new in traditional art that the object of greater importance in a painting to be bigger in scale than other objects. But delivering this in a beautiful way definitely requires good skill.
Analysing his works made me curious about who had inspired him to draw. It was his paternal uncle Lingayyah (who was only 4 or 5 years older to him). Uncle Lingayyah used to draw out of his own interest. It seems he would sit quietly on the thinnai (the front porch of a traditional South Indian home, which used to serve as a resting place for visitors) outside his home and draw people walking along Ponnambala Vadhiyar street in Mylapore. At that time, Sri S Rajam (Artist/musicologist) who was a very close friend of uncle Lingayyah, a neighbour Sri Vittal Rao and Sri Maniam used to watch him in action. That inspired all of them to pursue drawing as a hobby which later developed into their career. Only Sri Vittal Rao served in Reserve bank but still continued to paint all his life. He is now 86 yrs old and is one among a few we consult regarding artist Maniam’s childhood days.
Here is another illustration by Sri. Maniam on the subject of Alexander the Great. Let us look at how he composed the character of this image (late 1960s for Kalki Magazine).
Artist Maniam has skilfully brought out the main identities that Alexander the Great was known for. The first thing that comes to our mind about Alexander is his army, leadership quality, his valour and strength. If you look at the area where Alexander stands, there are actually four representations of him starting from the one on horse, one in action, one standing and one close up of the face with his soldier’s helmet. The way these figures are aligned gives the effect of how he rose to power and marked his identity.
The above illustration was made in early 1960’s (for Gangai magazine) for another historical novel. The manner in which the main character is portrayed and the way he has handled various elements in this riot scene is visually effective (take time to observe the illustration). We can actually hear the thunder, feel the strength of wind, the heat from the fire and emotion of every character in this composition.
Comparing all three illustrations, it is very clear that the size of the main character is dominant in all three compositions and the two colour painting process has been handled skilfully. Combining studies and techniques from western and Indian art to make the scene visually effective was indigenous to artist Maniam. Though he discontinued from The School of Arts during his second year, he never stopped learning. Every work that he had done was a result of a great deal of research and knowledge gained from various sources and we are now trying to understand those facets of his works.
In the next post, we will go in to the visual characterisation of various characters from Ponniyin Selvan.
Podcast of a radio interview of Sri Maniam Selven (about his life as an artist) conducted by Mr.Sri (Bay area, California) for his show on KZSU Stanford 90.1 fm on 9th February 2011 is available at www.itsdiff.com. Please follow the link to listen to the podcast.